ALTHOUGH THEY WEKE CLEARLY rising stars in their respective parties, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich had little direct contact before 1992. They met casually at public events in the 1980s when Clinton was in Washington lobbying on behalf of the nation’s governors, but for the most part they observed each other from a distance. “We had a distant awareness of each other,” recalled Gingrich, who remembered a brief encounter with Clinton during a national governor’s convention in 1988.1 The first official meeting between the two men took place on January 26, 1993, shortly after Clinton assumed office, when Gingrich attended a congressional leadership meeting at the White House.
The Clinton presidency was already off to a rough start. The press praised Clinton for his touching and uncharacteristically brief (fourteen minute) inaugural address. “Let us give this capital back to the people to whom it belongs,” Clinton said, reinforcing the populist theme of the campaign. Within days of taking the oath of office, however, the president found his new administration engulfed in controversy. Clinton had promised during the campaign to focus “like a laser beam” on the economy, but he created a political firestorm during his first week in office by proposing to lift the longstanding ban on homosexuals in the military. He also blurred his “New Democrat” message with a fruitless search for a cabinet that “looked like America.” According to two observers, his efforts to find a female attorney general looked like “an auction between left-wing interest groups,” and produced a public relations fiasco when he was forced to withdraw his first choice, Zoe Baird, after it was revealed that she had hired an illegal immigrant to work as a nanny.2 Congressional Democrats were publicly fretting about